Friday, July 5, 2013

Melancholy and the hope of the gospel

In high school I was part of the youth choir at my church, the highlight of such participation being the annual choir tour. My senior year we spent a week in Canada doing backyard Bible clubs, performing in various venues, and sightseeing (the highlight being Niagara Falls). At the close of the week our choir director honored the graduating seniors by presenting each of us with a hymnal with a personal inscription on the flyleaf. As he presented each hymnal he related a specific hymn to each senior. For me that hymn was "Joyful, Joyful We Adore Thee".

I've thought of that often, not the trip to Canada so much, but that particular hymn and what may have prompted the director to choose that title for me. See, "joyful" isn't exactly the sort of word one would choose to describe me. Not now, at least, and I suppose we all assume the way we are now is the way we've always been. And the me that I am now, well, I am more melancholy than merry.

Not only is my general disposition toward the less-than-joyful it seems that the older I get the more prone I am to occasional bouts of deeper melancholy. Being in the dumps, down, depressed, whatever you want to call it, this funk-y state often sneaks up on me thanks to my hormones. Sorry, guys, just keepin' it real. If you'd like to click away, please do but I promise this isn't a post about hormones. It's about the gospel. And persevering when I'd really rather sit on the sofa and feel sorry for myself.

To borrow John Piper's term, I must fight for joy. "Joyful, joyful" is not my default emotion but I can fight for the kind of settled conviction that dispels the darkness of my despair. I'm not talking about happy, happy euphoria but something deeper: hope, peace, and, yes, joy. Here's what helps me fight the fight...

I am proactive. My low bouts are generally expected--I know when I am vulnerable--and I try to be wise in my fight. I do the things I know help: I get off the sofa, I walk my dog, I engage, I eat chocolate.

I preach to myself. I talk to myself rather sternly and I tell myself that it's only the hormones, that it's only emotions, that it's not real. Sometimes this helps but most times it only makes me sad and mad both, sad because it is the hormones and mad because I hate suffering the whim of something as inconsistent and erratic as the hormones of a 40-something female.


I talk to myself and I make myself get off the sofa but really, all that sustains is this: the gospel. So not only do I sternly remind myself of the fleeting nature of hormones and of feelings but I also preach the gospel to myself. When my emotions tempt me to despair, I must hold to something higher, something stronger, something more sure, more solid, more true. I must hold to Jesus and He promises He will not let go. I cling to Him, to His promise to save and sustain, to His grace and forgiveness, to the hope I have beyond hormones and depression. There is more and it is in Christ.

I seek perspective. These struggles with melancholy point me to my true home where there will be no sadness and no tears, only joy and light and that light and that joy being Jesus Himself, yes and amen! In the face of such future hope my melancholy makes me yearn for the satisfaction that I will know when I see Him. What a glorious gift to see this world as wanting and know the sure glory of the next!

While I struggle with emotional lows and even suffered a season of post partum depression after my last baby, I don't pretend to know the enduring darkness which some of you may suffer. I know my inability to climb out of the sadness, but my sadness only lasts for a few days, maybe a week. To those who suffer prolonged periods of depression I offer the hope of the gospel as well as the encouragement to seek professional help. There is no shame in getting the kind of help you need be it medication or some other form of treatment. Please, talk to your doctor or engage a professional Biblical counselor.

Two resources that have been a great help to me are John Piper's When I Don't Desire God: How to Fight For Joy and D. Martin Lloyd-Jones' Spiritual Depression: Its Causes and Cure. Even if you do not struggle with these types of funks I think both titles will serve to encourage and edify.

Whether you are naturally disposed to joy or, like me, are more-melancholy-than-merry, we have a hope that endures. There is joy beyond the sorrow! Let us hold fast, sisters, for He who promised is faithful.

Joyful, joyful, we adore thee,
God of glory, Lord of love;
hearts unfold like flowers before thee,
opening to the sun above.
Melt the clouds of sin and sadness;
drive the dark of doubt away.
Giver of immortal gladness,
fill us with the light of day!
~Henry Van Dyke


  1. It appears we have been on similar paths. However, my struggles with melancholy & depression have been both cyclical and extended. I just finished "When I Don't Desire God," and I am currently reading "Spiritual Depression." During the past couple of years, God has directed me to books and teaching on being gospel-focused, which has enabled me to preach effectively to myself and to not give in to despair. In my current fight, I am daily praying a variety of scriptures on joy. God is faithful.

  2. I experience these kinds of lows, too, LIsa. Going through a bout right now in fact. And, yes, reminding myself of the gospel over and over is key. Thanks for this post. I can truly relate to it. Seeking joy, holding fast, hanging all my hope on His promises. Yes and amen.